Chris Cornell was a rock icon who thrived on contradictions. An innovator who resisted genre labels, he was nonetheless a chief architect of the 90s grunge movement.
Frequently ranked as one of the best voices in music history,
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he successfully maintained his own unique identity over decades as a multi-Grammy award-winning musician and universally acclaimed singer, songwriter and lyricist. Chris Cornell was born Christopher John Boyle on July 20 1964 in Seattle, Washington. He was the second youngest of six children, and was the son of Karen Cornell, an accountant, and Edward Boyle, a pharmacist. He was of mostly Irish, English, Scottish, and Norwegian ancestry, with many of his mother's ancestors coming from Canada. His parents divorced when Chris was in his early teens, and Chris and his siblings changed their surnames from Boyle to his mother's maiden name. Chris rebelled against his Catholic upbringing and was on the verge of being expelled from the parochial school he attended when his mother pulled him out. As an adolescent, he experimented with drugs and stealing. Among the things he stole were a collection of Beatles records from his neighbour's basement which sparked an interest in songwriting. Though his parents had given him piano lessons from early on, Chris said his mother saved his life when she bought him a snare drum. A week later he bought himself an entire drum kit and thus began his forage into rock n roll. Cornell dropped out of school at the age of 15 for two reasons: one was because he had problems with authority, the other was that he wanted to work to help his mother support the family. He waited tables and later on became a cook. He honed his skills as a songwriter and musician by playing in bands on the side. He experienced his first bouts of depression during his teens. His condition became so severe he didn't leave his home for almost a year. Fortunately, he was able to check his use of recreational drugs. He later earned his GED. He formed Soundgaren with Hiro Yamamoto, Kim Thayil and Matt Cameron in the mid-eighties. Yamamoto left the band was replaced by Ben Shepherd. Soundgarden were the first of the Seattle grunge bands to get signed by a major label during the late 80s and would eventually go on to become on of the most successful bands of the 1990s. Soundgarden were a law to themselves, edgy, dark and deeply individual. Their savage soundscapes, coupled with Cornell's incisive lyrics and predatory roar, seduced audiences hungry for musical depth and complexity, while leading trends in street fashion and iconic design. Their sound continued to change and evolve over the course of five pioneering albums. Chris also enjoyed success with several side projects, among them Temple Of The Dog with Eddie Vedder. Temple had already shown Cornell's more soulful side, and introduced future Pearl Jam frontman Vedder to the world. Around this time, he married his long-time girlfriend, Alice In Chains manager Susan Silver. Silver, at the request of Cornell's band, had also taken on the management duties of Soundgarden. After achieving multi-platinum status and earning 2 Grammy awards, Soundgarden amicably disbanded in 1997. Cornell decided to go it alone and released 'Euphoria Morning', a solo album that showed his amazing versatility as a vocalist and songwriter, with its richly melodic and critically acclaimed sound, recognized for its alienation and despair. His songs shocked his grunge fanbase by boldly exploring folk, R&B and melding a variety of genres. 'Euphoria Morning' earned Cornell a Grammy nomination in the category of Best Male Rock Performance. However Cornell was dissatisfied with the commercial performance of his solo album and severely disillusioned by the deaths of several close friends. Plagued for many years by social phobias and alcohol abuse, it all came to head and he plunged into a deep depression. Once again, he began to use drugs. In June of 2000. Chris and Susan welcomed their first child, a daughter, Lillian Jean. The couple later divorced. In a turn of fortune, 2000 was also the year producer Rick Rubin suggested Cornell jam with the remaining members of Zach de la Rocha's abandoned band, Rage Against The Machine. The collaboration was so successful, Cornell along with guitar virtuoso Tom Morello, innovative bassist Tim Commerford and powerhouse drummer Brad Wilk formed Audioslave, a multi-platinum supergroup which lived to deny its detractors, producing three top-selling albums, touring the world and becoming the first American band to bring rock to Castro's Cuba. They built a reputation as a live act second to none. Cornell subsequently redefined his sound and vision to encompass new music, new collaborations and new activities. Having contributed solo songs to movie soundtracks from "Great Expectations" to "Mission Impossible II", he became the first American male singer to write the theme song for the James Bond franchise in its most successful film to date, "Casino Royale." His bold and bluesy reinvention of Michael Jackson dance classic "Billie Jean" courted controversy and attracted imitators. And his triumphant 2007 world tour brought together songs from every stage of his career, reinterpreting them for new audiences and blending their original fire with the shock of the new. He also married publicist Vicky Karayiannis, and the couple had two children. Outside music, Cornell fronted fashion designer John Varvatos's Spring 2006 collection and settled in Paris with his family, where he has helped revive a historic restaurant, the stylish Black Calavados. Chris Conell died on May 17, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. Always eclectic, always experimental, he broke rules, made history and challenged expectations.